When federal land managers assess greenhouse gas emissions on national wildlife refuges, national parks and other government-owned terrain, they generally don’t factor in visitor transportation.

Managers routinely include facility energy emissions and employee vehicle emissions. But not visitor transportation emissions. Until now.

The National Wildlife Refuge System, with the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Engineering, has initiated a greenhouse gas mitigation project called Climate Friendly Refuges. The project recognizes that visitor transportation is a major contributor of federal lands’ greenhouse gas emissions.

A centerpiece of the project is the Climate Leadership in Refuges (CLIR) calculation tool, which can determine overall greenhouse gas emissions at individual refuges and fish hatcheries. It was piloted on four refuges last year and will be rolled out gradually in the eight Service regions, according to Service national transportation program coordinator Steve Suder.

“There will be a more widespread rollout this fall,” says Suder, “to have field stations preview CLIR, followed by webinar sessions to answer questions.” CLIR assembles information that might be in different sources into one Excel spreadsheet. “Perhaps you’ve intuitively thought about making changes to lower your carbon footprint, but now CLIR numerates that,” says Suder. “You’re able to see what your impacts are and how you might change them.”

CLIR is designed for all field station staff, not just project leaders, fleet managers or maintenance workers. Suder hopes CLIR will foster “recognition of improvements that everybody on a station might make, whether it’s reducing their own travel during their work hours or different activities they might do to help lower greenhouse gas emissions that CLIR can help pinpoint.”

Suder and the Division of Engineering’s Andrea McLaughlin believe CLIR could help the Service reach carbon neutrality by 2020, as mandated in the 2010 Climate Change Strategic Plan.

So, does Graham Taylor, refuge manager at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, MA, which hosted a CLIR pilot—as did Horicon Refuge, WI; Kenai Refuge, AK; and St. Marks Refuge, FL.

“The tool helps provide a direct correlation,” Taylor says of the carbonneutrality goal. “It gives us something tangible to see we’re moving in the right direction.”

CLIR is based on a National Park Service tool called CLIP (Climate Leadership in Parks). Both CLIP and CLIR allow a user to calculate how changes in facilities energy consumption (electricity, fuel oil, natural gas, propane) and employee vehicle fleet consumption (miles per gallon; gasoline, diesel, biodiesel) would affect a site’s greenhouse gas emissions. But, importantly, CLIR adds visitor transportation—to, from and on a refuge.

“If you have an auto-tour route, with 100,000 or more people going out driving every year, depending on how long it is, that type of emissions is much, much greater than what a facility puts off,” Suder says. CLIR could quantify how an electric shuttle would reduce emissions.

Parker River Refuge, which is developing its comprehensive conservation plan, already finds CLIR worthwhile. “The timing for us was good to be able to blend this into our CCP process,” says Taylor. “I’m sure the CLIR tool will be useful for a lot of refuges,” provided the data being input are sound.

McLaughlin says CLIR can augment the environmental management system (EMS) planning tool in place at 66 Service field stations, too.

Suder is excited about the crossdisciplinary aspect of CLIR. The pilot projects convened national-, regional- and field-level employees of divergent specialties: visitor services, natural resources and biology, facilities management, etc.

CLIR offers, Suder says, “a nice way of talking about real numbers, about real possibilities for change, bringing people together and then setting a direction for the future.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees can learn more about the CLIR tool at http://sharepoint.fws.net/Programs/nwrs/R9VS/CLIR/default.aspx.